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Incoming Arts Alliance CEO: ‘I’m completely full with passion about our mission’

Bill DeYoung



Terry Marks, on the job. "Just in the past couple days, I’ve gotten such an amazing, warm response, and invitations to meet, and discuss and talk," she says. "So I’m just blown away by the humanity that exists within the city at every level." Photo by John Collins

With many hands-on years of experience on her resume, Terry Marks joins the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance as CEO well-versed in the ups, downs and in-betweens of nonprofit management. Although Marks’ official start date is April 1, she’s already at home in the Alliance office, where she and outgoing executive director John Collins have been working nose-to-nose on the upcoming transition.

Marks grew up in the Bronx, New York. Originally an educator, she next enjoyed a 15-year career on Wall Street and as an insurance programmer and risk management consultant for Fortune 500 companies. Next, she relocated to Southern California, where among other things she very successfully ran a nonprofit consulting company for 17 years. Mission-driven work, she discovered, was her true calling.

In 2009 it was back to New York, to take care of her mother in the final years of her life; Marks became Chief Philanthropic Officer and interim CEO of the National Eating Disorder Association. Six years ago, weary of the winter weather in New York, Marks and her wife relocated to Sarasota.

And that’s where we pick up her story.


Your predecessor says you’re here to bring the SPAA to “the next stage.” What does that mean to you? What’s the next stage?

Building on everything the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance has already done. The next stage would be expanding our reach in terms of building collaborations within the arts and culture community. Expanding our reach within education, and supporting artists. And certainly, and foremost in my mind, is continuing to propel economic growth through the arts. That’s going to be a big focus – how do we continue to propel that growth through the arts, and have the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance take a leadership role in that.


Fundraising is obviously a big part of the nonprofit world. Although he was quite the worker bee, John Collins was not at all fond of that never-ending part of the job. You’re really good at it – is that something you want to strengthen here?

I love asking people for money. I have no compunction about it, especially when it’s mission-driven. I’m completely full with passion about our mission. And I know that fundraising is going to be the key. Any plans that we have are going to rely on fundraising. And that means creating relationships, in a very respectful and honest way. That’s really important, because I think all fundraising comes out of building those relationships.

To get to know the community, to get to know the artists, to get to know the leaders in government, in business, in the philanthropic world – all of that is important. Again, it all comes out of relationship-building.


So the phrase “nonprofit management” means driving it forward?

Like any other business, it’s having the tools and the resources to be able to drive the business forward. And anyone knows who runs a nonprofit, or who runs a business, it’s really hard. So the first focus is really building the internal capacity of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance. And that means making sure that our staff have career paths, making sure that we get full-time staff, and in we need additional staff, to make this all happen. So that’s Step One.

And Two, of course, is going out – and it’s not just fundraising, it’s giving people the reason to be a stakeholder. To be an investor in the Alliance, and to evidence the kind of impact not only we’ve made, and John has made for so many years, but that we will continue to make and strengthen.


What do you see as your most immediate concern stepping into this role?

I think it’s really getting to understand the culture within the organization. And also, within St. Petersburg. Just in the past couple days, I’ve gotten such an amazing, warm response, and invitations to meet, and discuss and talk. So I’m just blown away by the humanity that exists within the city at every level. So I think that’s the focus, understanding what this community’s all about. That’s my first focus.


This is something that people in St. Petersburg talk about all the time, from historic preservation to business to the arts. In your opinion, is it possible for St. Pete’s arts community to get too big? Losing what some call the small-town charm.

I think there has to be a lot of thought and consideration to make sure that growth is happening, but not at the expense of the community, or not at the expense of the city. But I’ve seen many communities grow in wonderful ways, and still have kept their small-town charm.


You’re coming here from Sarasota. What were you doing down there?

I worked at Ringling College of Art and Design, and then I worked on a capital project, and I worked recently with Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative, which is great fun. And enjoying the culture, and the visual and performing arts in Sarasota.

Coming here, it’s like an explosion of all kinds of wonderful things. And wonderful talent. So it’s going to be very exciting to move here – and hopefully, that will be in the next couple months.


Tell me about the company you ran in California.

I had a consultancy for 17 years. I worked with national nonprofits, with very large budgets and very small budgets. And I worked with nonprofits that were incubating, and just beginning. I worked across the field in a variety of missions. So I worked in South Central and Compton and Inglewood, and I worked in Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades.

I worked with nonprofits that served health and mental health, and developmental disabilities like autism; my longest-running client was nine years.

In all different capacities: Fundraising, capital campaigns, organizational development, board development, staff development, marketing, communications, and it was extraordinary. And really brought my Wall Street background, my business background, into nonprofit.

It’s really important that nonprofit professionals understand that they need the tools to be able to do their jobs. And they need to get paid their worth to be able to do their jobs.

And so all that experience that I learned in those 17 years, I bring with me. I’ve learned a lot. And the good news with this position is that I’m going to continue learning. And that’s one of my great joys.


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